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by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Grace Mannen dribbles into the paint in the second quarter of the Valiants win over Damascus Christian.

Normally a squad that exists on its posts’ ability to supply offensive production, the Valley Catholic girls’ basketball team toed the tantalizing three-point line against Damascus Christian and tethered the Eagles in the Valiants’ final preseason game.

Making it rain from the rooftops with a school-record eight three-pointers — five of which dropped in the first half— and fostering a true love for offensive rebounding gave the Valiants a fiercely-fought, 59-51, win on Thursday over an Eagle team that’s one of the favorites to win the 1A state championship.

“We’ve played a lot of different teams, but it felt really good to come out here and beat a really good team,” said sophomore wing Jessi Beyer, who scored 11 points for the Valiants. “It was a great win for us.”

The Valiants’ crisp ball movement diced up Damascus’ 2-3 zone by funneling the rock into their posts Bailey McDevitt and Molly Danielson, and kicking it back out to dead-eye gunners like Beyer, Addie Flemmer, Grace Mannen and Lindsie LaBonte. Combined, the four Valiants canned five triples in the first half, which helped Valley build a 29-22 halftime lead.

LaBonte and Flemmer each flushed a three from the top of the key in the first quarter, and LaBonte scored four more paint points to give Valley a 13-11 advantage. The southpaw-slinging Beyer said generally most of Valley’s offense is generated in the post, but head coach John Innes forewarned his team that Damascus was going to pack the paint and force shots from the outside. McDevitt and Danielson, in succession, found the Valiants’ open shooters, who let it fly from deep.

“We worked a lot in practice yesterday on our shooting, just taking our time and being confident,” said Beyer. “I was glad it was able to work out today.”

The threes kept cascading in the second quarter when Mannen rolled in a triple after McDevitt snatched an offensive board. Flemmer hit another three from the left wing, and then Beyer buried the Valiants’ fifth 20-footer of the half after an unselfish ball reversal from Mannen to go up 29-20 at the half.

Mannen said the key to defeating any sort of zone defense is passing the ball well, and having belief that the shots are going to drop when it comes time to hoisting from the outside. Valley did a little bit of both against Damascus.

“I think confidence was the key,” said LaBonte, who hit four threes on the night and led Valley with 16 points. “We had to just trust in one another. We’ve been practicing our shooting, so I think that worked out really well for us.”

“We were really confident,” added Mannen. “We were like ‘Ok, you’re going to pay for staying in the key.’ I thought we did really well with that.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic shooting guard Lindsie LaBonte puts up a tear drop for two against Damascus Christian. LaBonte led the Valiants with 16 points.

A handful of Valley’s buckets in the second quarter were set up by its hustle and bustle on the offensive boards. The Valiants’ first seven points of the period came off the offensive glass, be it putbacks, grabbing their own misses for baskets, or kickout threes after an offensive board.

After struggling to control the boards early in the preseason, Innes coined a memorable phrase in the locker room that grabbed his team’s attention and reasserted the Valiants’ focus on the backboards. As a team, Valley beasted Damascus on the offensive glass, 17-5.

“We wanted to work on having that ‘rebounding lust’ as coach calls it,” said Beyer. “As a team, one of our pitfalls is not being able to get in there and rebound a ton. We’ve been talking about crashing the boards game after game and getting offensive rebounds. Coach said we really had to get those boards and put points back up. We definitely followed through with that, and had that rebounding lust.”

Mannen and LaBonte helped out rebounding the ball as well, blocking out Damascus’ guards while also wreaking havoc underneath on the offensive side.

“The coaches really challenged everybody, the posts and the guards, to really get in there and attack the boards,” said Mannen. “On any offensive shot we took, we were all diving down and just taking that part of our game seriously tonight. I think that really made a difference.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Addie Flemmer dribbles into the paint in the second quarter of the Valiants win over Damascus Christian.

Valley extended its advantage to 37-28 in the third quarter following a LaBonte three from the top of the key, a Mannen steal-and-score, and an old fashioned three-point play from LaBonte, who hovered in the lane, absorbed contact from an Eagle defender and still finished the tough bank shot off the glass. Beyer’s left wing three pushed Valley’s biggest lead of the game to 40-31 with 4:30 left in the third.

Damascus didn’t die, however, using the three-ball to its advantage as well with a trio of rapid-fire triples to get within 42-40 with 3:00 to go in the third.

Yet, LaBonte answered the Eagles’ barrage with a cold-blooded three from the top of the key — the senior guard’s favorite spot on the floor to fire from — that silenced Damascus’ fans momentarily and swung the momentum back to Valley. McDeVitt’s spinning jump hook with her left hand and Kaylynn Bush’s offensive board-and-hoop ballooned the lead back to 49-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We were up 18 last year on Damascus and they came back so we knew we just had to keep fighting,” said LaBonte. “They’re not a team that gives up. They’re a great team so we just had to keep the momentum going in our favor.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic post Bailey McDevitt had 11 points and three assists for the Valiants in their 59-51 win over Damascus Christian.

“We really didn’t think about the score very much,” added Beyer. “We just stayed calm. We played our game, blocked out, and rebounded well.”

Damascus shot Valley out of its own 2-3 zone by burying four threes in the third quarter, yet when the Valiants switched to man-to-man, LaBonte and Mannen were able to dig up steals and stops. After weathering Valley’s 1-2-2 fullcourt press for most of the game and the Valiants’ insistence on pushing the basketball down the floor at all times, the Eagles were worn out and worn down in the final minutes.

Danielson and McDevitt each finished with 8 points and Mannen tacked on 10 for Valley.

“We just made sure we didn’t quit,” said Mannen. “That’s kind of a key for our game, is playing through ups and downs and playing all 32 minutes of the basketball game. I thought we did that really, really well as a team. (Damascus) got tired and our athleticism and their exhaustion just kind of played into our favor. We utilized everything we had.”

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